December 03, 2004


(Published in the Dec. 3-4, 2004 issue of BusinessWorld.)

Millions of viewers watching news reports about the wide swathe of destruction and death Typhoon Winnie caused must have wept, if not openly then deep in their hearts, about the utterly desperate situation of many, if not most, of our people today.

Hungry, sick, landless and jobless, the average Filipino today is also at his most vulnerable to all sorts of natural and man-made catastrophes from which there seems to be no escape or deliverance.

Natural catastrophes such as typhoons, floods, earthquakes, and the like are certainly unavoidable. However, the extent of damage to life and property, and the misery wreaked on the most likely victims, the poorer sections of the population, is aggravated many times over by decades of wanton exploitation of our natural resources by big business (with their invariable foreign multinational partners), government's cavalier attitude towards conservation and our people's generally lackadaisical view about environmental degradation in the face of the more urgent imperative to survive.

Hardly have relief and rescue operations gone under way when the official hand wringing, passing the buck and the usual pronouncements about running after illegal loggers began to issue forth from the Arroyo administration.

We saw Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Mike Defensor blaming illegal loggers -- not the filthy rich ones, mind you, but the kaingineros (slash-and-burn mountain farmers) -- for the forest destruction that led to the landslides and flashfloods that engulfed whole provinces of Central Luzon.

Moreover, Mr. Defensor expressed seemingly profound sadness that there was not much that government can do about illegal logging, since the practice is rampant and there is no money for forest rangers to catch the culprits while they're at it.

Seeing the photos of the massive pileup of cut logs on river banks and heaped against fallen bridges, we can't help wondering how impoverished farmers, even those engaged in "carabao logging" (that is, cutting one tree at a time, hauling the log with a carabao and selling it at the nearest sawmill) could manage to cut up those logs in such quantities with their primitive tools. And for what conceivable reason would they then stockpile these cut logs alongside their minuscule farm plots and thatched dwellings when they would have no means to transport these out and transform them to cash?

If ever these hand-to-mouth farmers eking out a living on the sides and at the foothills of mountains can be deemed responsible for destroying watersheds, it is only to the extent that their daily struggle to survive has forced them to make do with what is there. Yet, this can hardly be placed in the same category as the capacity for and the actual destruction brought about by big loggers, illegal and legal, that has been going on unabated despite debates in Congress about a log ban and despite periodic campaigns by the military and police to confiscate "hot" logs that inevitably end up in some profiteers' lumberyard.

What is wrong with environment protection and conservation in this country is that there isn't any. The DENR, the government agency tasked with this necessary and vital task, is busy hocking the country's patrimony to the highest bidder.

As a latest example, witness the Arroyo administration's all-out effort to reverse the Supreme Court ruling declaring portions of the Mining Act of 1995 unconstitutional. Take note of the hard sell by NEDA chief Romulo Neri of the need to open the door wide open to foreign exploitation of mineral resources amid the approving noises coming from the foreign chambers of commerce, the international mining industry and the multilateral agencies reciting the mantra of "free trade" and calling for the removal of all investment barriers.

It's all about plundering the only remaining, relatively still intact, natural resource we have left so that allegedly, the fiscal crisis, will be a thing of the past. Our thieving, traitorous and green card-holding public officials can just go on with the IMF-World Bank dictated policies that have thrown us into the depths of chronic financial and economic crisis and pretend that a solution has been found.

It is not as if government doesn't know what to do. Our officials are just so busy looking after their own interests -- normally, that includes making sure foreign investors, credit-rating agencies and the US government are convinced that their interests and concerns are government's top priority -- for them to take care of everything a government ought to be taking care of.

Like disaster preparedness. Like rescue operations. Like relief and rehabilitation. Much less utilizing the still sizeable government resources and awesome powers to address the people's most basic needs.

In the aftermath of Winnie's devastation, mass media dramatized the heroic deeds of ordinary Filipinos risking life and limb to help rescue families threatened by rampaging floodwaters.

A taxi driver who couldn't stand the thought of not doing anything, as he watched a man with four of his children holding on to each other in the middle of the swift currents of the swollen Marikina river, tied a rope around his waist and jumped in to help tow the victims to safety. The good Samaritan had four children of his own, one a newborn. Had he drowned in the rescue effort, his family would have been left to fend for themselves, facing an uncertain future.

This is what we have been reduced to -- a people left to fend for ourselves, to survive not just the cruelties of fate and the wrath of nature, but the greed, selfishness, incompetence and treasonous proclivities of government officials, our so-called public servants. ###


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